California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed into law a bill that establishes developmental immaturity as a factor in determining whether a juvenile is competent to participate in court proceedings. The law will lead to rules on the qualifications of experts to evaluate competency and calls for a case to be dismissed if the child will not attain competence in the near future.  Previously, children who could not understand the proceedings or assist counsel were not evaluated; if they were deemed incompetent, they were institutionalized for indeterminate periods of time. Several grantees in the Foundation’s Models for Change initiative played a role in bringing about the new law. Advocates in the Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network relied on competency studies by the Research Network on Adolescent Development and legislative guidelines by the National Youth Screening and Assessment Project at University of Massachusetts.

Juvenile Justice, Justice, United States, Youth